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De Lima to Marcos: End drug war, stop the killings

VIENNA, AUSTRIA - Former senator Leila de Lima has challenged President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. to “do something more” about the war on drugs in the Philippines, which she called a “failure.”

“There are still killings, and that’s why I have to make this challenge to the President that he should do something more about that, and he should explicitly and categorically say, ‘Stop the killings,’” De Lima said during a sideline event at the 67th session of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, Austria on Thursday, March 21, 2024. The former senator, who was the event’s keynote speaker, delivered her speech remotely.

De Lima’s remarks came as the International Criminal Court (ICC) is seeking to investigate the abuses in former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.

Recently, the ICC announced it is looking for Filipino and Cebuano translators, which some lawyers believe to be a sign that the body is moving to the next stage of its investigation. However, the ICC has not officially linked the job posting to any inquiry.

Marcos, on the other hand, reiterated that the Philippine government would not cooperate with the ICC’s probe, calling it a threat to the country’s sovereignty and jurisdiction.

'Transitional justice'

In her remarks, De Lima emphasized that “there can be no effective transition if you do not deliver justice first.”

“Considering the lack of an effective mechanism to hold those accountable to the bloody drug war, it is imperative for the ICC to prosecute the authors of the drug war for the mass murder of our people,” De Lima said.

Duterte promised in his campaign for presidency to curb the country's drug problem, which resulted in the deaths of at least 6,200 suspects in police operations by the end of his term. However, human rights groups estimate that the figure could reach as high as 13,000.

The former senator said that “those identified and have been involved in this mass murder may be prosecuted under the principle of universal jurisdiction in foreign courts, which our national law recognizes.”

Different approach

In his state visit to Berlin, Germany early this month, Marcos told German Chancellor Olaf Scholz that he's opposed to handling the drug menace with violence.

Marcos made the remark when Scholz asked him about his approach against illegal drugs compared to Duterte, his predecessor. He said the country has made some progress against the drug problem under his administration.

"It's a big problem, but our approach has changed significantly," Marcos said.

"I diametrically opposed to handling the drug problem in that way, by confrontation, by violence, and it really requires so much, more much deeper understanding on the problem and the much deeper solution. So, yes, I think that we are also progressing when it comes to that," he added.

Human faces

Meanwhile, an advisor from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), highlighted the “human faces” behind the figures and emphasized the organization’s recommendations to “set up an investigation and …[provide] remedies to the victims as well as support, aid, and protection.”

“We know that there has been some initiative from the government under the umbrella of a Joint Programme on human rights … But [progress] is very slow,” Zaved Mahmood, OHCHR’s Human Rights and Drug Policy Advisor, said.

“One of the issues of this process should be reform. What is needed [in the reform of the war on drugs] is focus and transformative change, drafting policies... based on evidence, plac[ing] people and their rights at the center, and [that] are genderless, which [will] ultimately improve the lives of millions of individuals affected,” he added.

Drug problem still an issue

When asked whether the drug problem would still be a relevant issue in the upcoming midterm elections in 2025, De Lima said that it is still a major issue and “shouldn’t be forgotten”.

“As flaunted by the current administration, they’re having a different approach to the drug war: rehabilitation and not a punitive aspect. That should be the right approach,” De Lima said.

However, the former senator also addressed the “nexus” in the drug war, which she said is the “poor and the powerless” who were easily targeted by the violators.

“Duterte’s drug war was a failure … simply because the targets were just the drug addicts and street drug pushers, and not the big drug syndicates [which] continue their trade. Again, the focus [of the war on drugs] was not of the right one,” she said.

De Lima called on the international community to “continue to push for accountability and help in crafting policies” to help the victims of the violent drug war.

“I intend to use the freedom that I recently won, albeit temporarily still, to continue to speak the truth, hold power into account, and fight for the victims of the violent drug war,” said De Lima, who was detained during the Duterte administration over drug-related charges and is currently on bail.

De Lima has denied the charges against her, calling them political persecution by the Duterte administration. The courts have junked two of the three drug-related cases filed against her. —KBK, GMA Integrated News